By Graham Mackintosh
What a great time to visit Baja!
After so much rain its deserts and mountains have undergone a remarkable transformation. Almost every vista capable of bearing vegetation is strikingly green. The cirios are as leafed out as I ever remember, as are the ocotillos. The cacti look plump and gorged; and some of the massive water-laden branches of cardóns seem ready to fall under their own weight.
And what a year for Baja wildflowers! I recently drove down Highway 1 from the border to Bahía de los Ángeles. Up north, there were sudden patches of orange California poppies and rows of purple-pink lupines lining the highway.
Coming into the Central Desert region south of El Rosario, both sides of the highway were lined with showy yellow-flowering brittlebush (Encelia californica), broken by clusters of orange mallow.
It was spectacular to drive through, and even better to hike around. I noted that much of the desert around Cataviña is decorated with the large bluish and yellow flowers of Baja California nightshade (Solanum hindsianum) and the smaller yellow flowers of creosote bushes (Larrea tridentate), flaming red fairy dusters (Calliandra californica) and the tubular red flowers of ocotillos (Fouquieria splendens) and their Palo Adan close cousins.
But perhaps the most spectacular flowering glory was around the LA Bay turn, where great swathes of the desert were bright pink with sand verbena (Abronia villosa).
Spending several days at Bahía de los Ángeles, I hiked into the desert every morning, coffee and camera in hand, listening to the birdsong as flickers and hummingbirds flew by and cactus wrens and flycatchers called out their delight. Wildflowers were everywhere.
I enjoyed the sun’s warmth as I moved among the mats of ubiquitous yellow Baja California sun cups, (Camissonia angelorum) photographing them and some of the more scattered plant species like devil’s claw and wild heliotrope (Phacelia distans ). The town and much of the surroundings were vibrant with the showy sun cups, to the delight of the bees and other insects.
I was inspired enough to put on my boots and hike from town south to the aptly named old mining ruins of Las Flores – a 15 mile roundtrip. Hummingbirds dashed from flower to flower while vultures, crows, Harris hawks and red-tailed hawks circled and squabbled in the blue sky. The mountains and forests of majestic cardóns rising from the desert floor were beautiful in themselves, but with the mats of pink sand verbena and yellow sun cups vying for attention it was Baja at its photogenic best.
Just five or six vehicles passed all day. It was so peaceful. Everywhere there was something to see and appreciate. Among the ruins and mine tailing piles of Las Flores I even encountered three species of desert mushrooms! The surrounding display of color and the gorgeous birdsong added extra poignancy to the Daggett family graveyard and the old “jail.”
I dithered and dallied taking so many pictures, it was already dark when I returned to town. My feet were sore but I hardly noticed.
Baja California was spectacular. I’m ready to head back south and enjoy it all again. This time with Jon Rebman’s comprehensive 450-page Baja California Plant Field Guide.
Graham Mackintosh is a Baja author and adventurer. He has written four books on Baja: “Into A Desert Place,” which recounts the tale of his two-year, 3,000-mile hike around the coastline of the Baja California peninsula; “Journey with a Baja Burro,” his tale of hiking the rugged mountainous interior of Baja; “Nearer My Dog to Thee,” where he spends four months with his dogs in the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir; and “Marooned with Very Little Beer,” recounting his two months kayaking and hiking Isla Angel de la Guarda, the second-largest island in the Sea of Cortez.